Few things have been as consistent in Atlanta Falcons history as the need for better defensive ends. For years the team failed to give John Abraham any help, and the followed that up by completely failing to replace him. It is four years later and the team is still trying to put together a pass rush.
Should the defensive ends be improved this year?
The Falcons official website lists the following players as defensive ends:
This position is a bit harder, as Dan Quinn implements so many sub packages that a player's listed position does not really correlate to where they play. Brooks Reed, Courtney Upshaw, and of course, Vic Beasley are all expected to take plenty of snaps at defensive end. At the same time, Jackson is reportedly moving to defensive tackle, and Ra'Shede Hageman is expected to play at end. It is safe to say that Brandon Williams and Capi Nordly are unlikely to make an impact, if they manage to even make the roster.
What's changed? Not much. Clayborn is reportedly going to play more at end. He looked much better there than at defensive tackle, and that should be a small improvement. The team likely hopes Hageman can simply overpower tackles because he can only occasionally outwork the bigger guards. I'll put low odds on Hageman making a big impact with the new position. Beasley is no longer listed at end, but should still be rushing the passer on passing downs.
Derrick Shelby is expected to play end on early downs, and move inside during passing downs. If we are looking for improvement, it rests on Shelby. However, Shelby looks like another Clayborn type. He's good in a limited role, but won't be an impact player. Good player to have, but pushing to defensive tackle as a tweener won't tally up the sacks.
Better, Worse, Same
Same. This article reminded me that I was all in on Shaq Lawson this year. Free agency was a tough place to grab a pass rusher. The Falcons options included paying (checks Google because I already forgot his name) Olivier Vernon a billion dollars, trading for and paying Chandler Jones, or tossing money at an old and inconsistent Mario Williams. The draft was the only place they could realistically grab a defensive end that could provide an impact.
Whether due to injury or other reasons, the Falcons passed on Lawson. Some roster shuffling and a decent free agency signing just isn't enough to improve this position group.